I have something to admit: I’ve read more fanfiction than actual fiction. I’ve read thousands of words of epic multi-chaptered stories and one-shots. I love the dazzling imagination that stretches canon and established characters beyond a show or movie’s original premise, AUs and episode tags, crossovers and fusions.
I’m always enamored with the glimpses of fanfiction’s influence on novels and authors. Whether it’s tropes that come into play (There was only one bed! Hate To Love! Hurt comfort!) or unique formats that authors learned while reading and writing fic, it’s fascinating to see fanfiction’s traces on novels and short stories.
We surveyed some of our favorite authors: L.L. McKinney (A Dream So Dark), Tara Sim (Scavenge The Stars), Christina Lauren (The Honey Don’t List), Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles), TJ Klune (The Extraordinaries), Emma Lord (Tweet Cute) on what first drew them to the genre, how it inspired them, and what they’ve learned while reading and writing fanfiction.
Read on and then make sure to pick up the titles mentioned and featured in this article. Their books feature some fantastic echoes of beloved tropes and are the nods to their fanfiction influences are truly wonderful to read. For more authors talking about fanfiction and how it’s influenced them, check out the great “Authors In Fandom” interview series by Jenny at Reading The End.
Do you remember the first time you stumbled upon fanfiction?
L.L. McKinney: I kinda don’t! I started writing Sailor Moon fanfiction with a friend in high school and it wasn’t until later that we realized there was a name for what we were doing. That being said, I’m sure that was connected to Sailor Moon as well.
Tara Sim: I can’t remember the very first instance, but I do remember discovering fanfiction.net! This was back when Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean were in their prime, so naturally those were the fandoms I gravitated toward.
Christina: I was recovering from surgery and had fallen down a Google rabbit hole. I ended up on a message board that led me to one of the first fics I ever read, a fic version of Midnight Sun.
Lauren: I was looking for more after I finished Breaking Dawn – that book left me unsatisfied in a way – and my friend told me, “Haven’t you ever heard of fanfiction??” The funny thing is I’d been writing it for years in notebooks, Alias fic, Buffy fic, but I’d never known other people did it, and I never knew it had a name. Once I found fanfiction.net, I was done for.
Marissa Meyer: Yes! I was in 8th grade and my best friend had recently introduced me to Sailor Moon. We became obsessed and I got inspired to start writing stories about the characters—mostly I was taking scenes from the cartoon and rewriting them from different characters’ POVs, or tweaking them to be the way I thought things should have happened. I started sharing these stories with my friends and they really loved them, but we didn’t realize it was a thing. Then one day my best friend sent me a link to a web site called “A Sailor Moon Romance,” which turned out to be a huge fanfiction archive. I was so excited to see that there were other writers doing the same thing I was, and that I suddenly had so much reading material at my fingertips to explore, and that I could even submit my own writing to the site for other readers to enjoy. It changed my life, and that’s not hyperbole!
TJ Klune: The first time I stumbled on what could be considered fanfiction was when I ordered an X-Files fan zine online when the show was on the air in the nineties. I was a teenager obsessed with the show, and the zine was filled with art and stories fans of the show had written. I was entranced by it.
Emma Lord: Actually, I don’t think I stumbled on it — my sister had to tell me it existed! I’d been writing fan fiction without knowing it was an actual thing in notebooks for years as a kid and eventually I fessed up to her about it and she was like, “You realize a whole bunch of people do this online, right?” She had to help me set everything up. I was eleven and didn’t know what “upload” meant. What a mood!!!
Do you think fanfiction taught you anything important about storytelling that you use in your career as a fiction writer?
L.L. McKinney: Developing characters that people love, and maintaining believability. Like, if I’m writing Gundam Wing fanfic, having magic show up in the midst of it wouldn’t fly. I guess this also falls along the lines of worldbuilding and rules and what now.
Tara Sim: Absolutely. Fanfiction is great at teaching characterization, because you’re borrowing someone else’s creations and trying to keep them within the boundaries of their personality. It also helps a lot with dialogue and learning how to make it sound not only natural, but true to the characters’ voices. It’s also great for romance!
Christina Lauren: Unless you’re writing a one-shot (single chaptered fic), fanfiction is serialized. This means people are reading in little bursts and waiting in between for updates. You learn to structure your chapters so they have a definite beginning, middle, and end, usually with some sort of cliffhanger so the reader wants to come back. You also learn that Stuff Has to Happen, which sounds obvious but sometimes isn’t. Post a chapter that’s just filler or where the story doesn’t clearly move forward and you will definitely hear about it in reviews.
Marissa Meyer: Oh yes. So much of what I learned about writing was learned during my time writing fanfic. Some fandoms, including Sailor Moon, have tens of thousands of existing stories in their archives, with more being added all the time. So I had to learn how to hook readers early on and keep them interested. I got really good at writing cliffhangers, as I would often post one chapter every week and I wanted to make sure my readers would keep coming back to get the next installment. You also learn how to “sell” your writing with enticing summaries that will grab readers as they’re scrolling through the archives trying to decide what to read next. I could go on and on—dialogue, characterization, how to balance action and description… writing fanfic was pretty much Fiction Writing 101 for me.
TJ Klune: Fanfiction is important because it gives many newbie authors a chance to stretch their wings, usually in a safe space. And this is especially true for younger, queer writers who’re trying to see themselves in a piece of fiction/media, but can’t do so with what’s considered canon. We’re here, we’re queer, but we’re constantly surrounded by depictions of cishet people where queer characters are relegated to side characters, some of which are still problematic to this day.
Emma Lord: Oh, absolutely. It’s helped a lot with pacing for sure, and with getting a sense for what is engaging readers more and what isn’t. It’s also just helped me figure out which character dynamics I tend to gravitate toward. But I think the most important thing is that I knew early on what kinds of stories I liked to write. You have this freedom growing up in the fan fiction world to figure that out in this happy little bubble, because there’s no business or money or marketing incentive, really. You just do it because it makes your shipper heart happy.
What fanfiction tropes or stories have remained influential to you? Do you have any recs?
L.L. McKinney: The same tropes that pop up in stories in general I suppose. I love the slick bad boy that’s not actually bad. I enjoy the enemies to lovers thing, even though I’m not big into romance itself.
Tara Sim: I’m always a sucker for enemies and/or rivals to lovers, as well as “oh no there’s only one bed” and the classic “fake out make out.” And, even though I’m an impatient person, I can really get behind a 60+k slowburn fic if done well.
Christina Lauren: We joke that the Unhoneymooners is like fic crack: enemies to lovers, fake marriage, THERE WAS ONLY ONE BED.
TJ Klune When I was researching fanfics for The Extraordinaries, I was struck by the sheer volume on sites like Archive of Our Own. There is literally something out there for anyone, regardless of your tastes. Even better, a lot of the writing is fantastic. The imagination from some of the stories I read rivaled what’s traditionally published. And while I don’t write fanfiction for any media (I have written what could be considered “fanfiction” as freebies for my readers based on my own books), you can see the influence in romance from tropes found in fanfiction. I mean, come on: is there anything better than oh no, we’re caught in a cabin in the woods in the middle of a storm AND THERE IS ONLY ONE BED.
My favorite fandom that I found while researching The Extraordinaries was Poe/Finn from the new Star Wars Trilogy. Disney had a real opportunity to have positive queer rep for their films, but in the end, chose not to go that direction for whatever reason. But the space husbands are alive and well in the minds of fandom, and there are thousands of fics for this pairing. I loved them!
Emma Lord: Oooh, I love a secret identity trope, love enemies-to-lovers and forbidden love and even a love triangle, if it’s done well (Jane The Virgin is truly the gold standard). I love the dynamic of serious characters with mouthy, reckless ones, or just clashing personalities in general. If it’s a fandom not set in our world, then I always love a cheeky modern AU (the college AU has a special place in my heart). I don’t have any specific fic recs, but I will say that the Star Wars and Marvel fandoms, which are where I tend to lurk, all have some ridiculously good twists on these tropes in their fics.
What are some ideas/thoughts that you think writers and readers can take away from fanfiction?
L.L. McKinney: Fanfiction is a great way to work on character development, like I said. Usually the world is already built, and you have an idea of the characters, but you need to maintain the things about them that people love, or add to those characteristics.
Tara Sim: To not take yourself too seriously. Fanfiction, to me, is about exploring scenarios that range from silly to cathartic and introspective. I think allowing yourself to make room for the unexpected, or for tropes (however overused or classic), will add a bit more fun to your writing.
Christina Lauren: For us fandom was like writer’s boot camp. You learn how to construct a story (or even how to write in general), how to handle praise and criticism, how to interact with readers, and maybe most importantly, how not to be an ass online.
Marissa Meyer: For me, one of the greatest things about fanfiction, and fandom in general, is the community it fosters. Readers and writers form fan groups and post comments and draw artwork for each other and support and encourage each other in a truly wonderful way. When you become traditionally published, it can feel like there are more barriers between the writer and the readers, and it can be necessary sometimes to have professional boundaries, but being able to talk to and meet with readers so easily through social media and book events is also one of the greatest things about the time we’re living and working in. I get so much joy and satisfaction from talking to readers, nerding out over shared interests, seeing their own creativity come to life through cosplay or fanart… I never want to lose touch with that.
TJ Klune: That it can be a place to hone your craft, especially if you’re just starting out as a writer. Maybe a writer doesn’t have any aspirations to go beyond fandom writing, and that’s just fine too. But there are writers out there who begin in fandom, learn how to write and edit, what works and what doesn’t, and then they can use what they learned to write original fiction.When I was a kid—seven or eight years old—I carried a notebook around with me where I wrote stories where I’d have adventures with Samus Aran, the main character in the video game Metroid. Looking back, I can see now it was a form of self-insert fanfiction, and it allowed me to become part of something I loved so much. It was just the beginning of my writing career.
Emma Lord: I think it’s that you can make your own rules and a story can be whatever you want it to be. I tend not to get as upset about some of the plot elements in major works when other people do because to me, fan fiction has always been such an immediate gateway for fixing it on my own, whether it’s by reading other people’s work or writing some. I think it’s also just so important in that it gives fans space to recraft stories so you can see them through the lens of other narratives, like taking characters who aren’t canonically a certain sexual orientation and exploring a possible reality where they are, or reimagining characters in a way that aligns more with your identity. You can put not just your own ideas but your own self in these stories where sometimes creators haven’t made space for them yet.
What do you wish more people knew about fanfiction? What’s your favorite thing about fanfiction?
L.L. McKinney: That it is legitimate writing the same way fanart is legitimate art. And my favorite things is discovering storylines that I never would’ve thought of but then find myself enjoying immensely.
Tara Sim: I wish more people knew that it’s not frivolous. Sure, there are plenty of fun fic out there, but there are also a lot that explore intense themes and intimate character studies. Fanfic has definitely made me cry on more than one occasion. My favorite thing about fanfiction is that it gets me to be out of my own head for a while, and to continue to live with characters I love despite having finished their books/games/shows.
Christina Lauren: Some people have an image of who they think the typical fanfic writer is, when in reality it’s probably the opposite. The Twilight fandom wasn’t just teenagers, there were also doctors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, teachers, college students, published authors, etc. We also wish people understood the strength of community that holds fandom together. You might stumble into a fandom looking for more on a specific book/movie/show/trope but it’s the shared joy and camaraderie that keeps people there. We met some of our best friends in fandom and are still friends with them to this day.
Marissa Meyer: For people who don’t know much about fanfiction, there continues to be a stigma against it (though not nearly as much today as when I started writing fanfiction as a teenager, thankfully!). But still, there are people who feel that it’s not really writing if you’re not creating everything from scratch. But that’s completely untrue, as anyone who has written it knows! It requires just as much creativity and skill to write a compelling fanfiction as it does an original work. Besides, fanfiction isn’t new. It can be argued that William Shakespeare was writing fanfiction. The Grimm Brothers were writing fanfiction. No one creates in a vacuum—we are all borrowing inspiration from stories that have come before, taking them and twisting them and reimagining them and creating something new. It’s still work. It’s still writing.
TJ Klune: I wish more people wouldn’t dismiss it immediately. I think it has a place in fiction/literature, and if you’re in a fandom, it can help expand on the property that’s being written about. Not only that, it’s extraordinarily popular. I know people who haven’t read a traditionally released book in years, and have instead only read fan works, and that’s great! Reading is reading is reading.
My favorite thing is how there is pretty much fan fiction about anything and everything. Some of it is…well. Let’s just say I accidentally stumbled upon Bible fanfiction, and while it wasn’t for me, I’m glad it exists in the first place.
Emma Lord: I wish more people knew that fan fiction is primarily by readers, for readers. We do it because we love it. I think it’s this beautiful way of taking care of yourself and taking care of your community. My favorite thing has always been how supportive fan fiction readers and writers are of each other; I know my eventual writing career certainly hinged on encouragement I was getting long before it even crossed my mind to try to write for a living, and we all kind of invisibly lean on each other to read and write as a stress reliever or break from the real world. It’s more than a hobby. It’s a soft place to land.
What are some tropes from fanfic that readers might discover in your work/inspired your work?
L.L. McKinney: You know…I never really thought about that. I know the bad boy I mentioned is in there. I guess folks can read and tell me what they find!
Tara Sim: What WON’T they find is probably more accurate. I’m always partial to “the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one,” as well as people changing sides, such as a villain having to work alongside the hero.
Christina Lauren: Omg where do we start? Enemies to lovers, brother’s best friend, fake marriage, bed sharing, forced proximity, second chance romance, we could go on and on!
Marissa Meyer: To this day, my favorite trope is the enemies to lovers romance – largely inspired by the romance between Usagi/Mamoru (Sailor Moon/Tuxedo Mask), who fight nonstop when they meet each other. Stories about how they came to know each other and fall in love, or how all their arguing was really just covering up their true feelings for each other, were always my favorite to write. I’m really excited to be currently working on my first contemporary romance novel, Instant Karma, which will features an enemies to lovers trope. It feels like going back to my roots! I also really love secret identity stories, again inspired by Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask, and I got to use that trope in my superhero series, The Renegades Trilogy. Alter egos for the win!
TJ Klune: The Extraordinaries is built around the love of fandom. Nick, the main character, writes self-insert real person fanfic (that’s a mouthful) about himself and the superhero of his dreams, Shadow Star. I wanted this book to be a love letter to fandom and all that it entails, so I sprinkled in some specific tropes into the story.
Probably my favorite trope in fanworks that I discovered was the idea of a “crackfic.” The idea behind crackfic is that it takes a premise that is entirely ludicrous, and builds a story around it. It’s wild, crazy and chaotic, and is a hell of a lot of fun. I used this trope in particular when writing Nick’s fanfiction in the story, letting myself go nuts with how I thought a sixteen year old with ADHD would write. (Given that I once was a sixteen year old with ADHD who loved to write, it wasn’t too much of a stretch). There was something freeing about it that I wasn’t quite expecting. Writers as a whole (myself included) tend to take themselves too seriously at times, and that could lead to one to lose sight of the sheer act of joy that writing can bring. While Nick’s overall story brought me much happiness, I think writing as Nick writing fanfiction is the most fun I’ve had writing in a long time.
In addition to crack!fic trope, there are other tropes sprinkled throughout The Extraordinaries: fluff (because fluff is important), schmoop (what a delightful word to say out loud) and what is present through a lot of my books, hurt/comfort. This last one is important, because it doesn’t necessarily need to be about romantic partners. It can help elevate a non-romantic relationship, such as that between a parent and a child. While Nick may be crushing hard on the Extraordinary called Shadow Star (while at the same time dealing with strange feelings about his best friend Seth), the other important relationship is between Nick and his dad. They rely on and love each other immensely, but their relationship can be complicated. I wanted to see what it could be like if the hurt/comfort trope was taken out of a romantic relationship and put upon a father and son. But no worries: there will still be plenty of crack for everyone!
Emma Lord: Oh, I liberally abused all of them in Tweet Cute. I shoved in secret identities and enemies-to-lovers and clashing personalities and shook ’em around in a pickle jar. I’m hoping after all the years of fic that I did those tropes justice!!
About the Authors
L.L. McKinney is writer, poet, and active member of the kidlit community. She’s the creator and host of the bi-annual Pitch Slam contest and spent time in the slush by serving as a reader for agents and participating as a judge in various online writing contests. A Blade So Black is her debut novel.
Tara Sim is a YA fantasy author who can typically be found wandering the wilds of the Bay Area, California. She is the author of the Timekeeper trilogy, which has been featured on Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, and various media outlets. When she’s not chasing cats or lurking in bookstores, she writes books about magic, clocks, and explosives.
Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners/besties/soulmates/brain-twins Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced fourteen New York Times bestselling novels. Their books have been translated into 30+ languages.
You can find them online at ChristinaLaurenBooks.com or at @seeCwrite (Christina), @LolaShoes (Lauren), or @ChristinaLauren on Twitter.
Marissa Meyer is a fangirl at heart, with a closet full of costumes, a Harry Potter wand on her desk, and a Tuxedo Mask doll hanging from her rear view mirror. Han and Leia are still her OTP. She may or may not be a cyborg.
Marissa is also the NYT bestselling author of a number of books for teens, including The Lunar Chronicles, the Renegades Trilogy, and Heartless.
TJ Klune is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.
Emma Lord is a digital media editor and writer living in New York City, where she spends whatever time she isn’t writing either running or belting show tunes in community theater. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a major in psychology and a minor in how to tilt your computer screen so nobody will notice you updating your fan fiction from the back row. She was raised on glitter, grilled cheese, and a whole lot of love. Her sun sign is Hufflepuff, but she is a Gryffindor rising. TWEET CUTE is her debut novel. You can find her geeking out online at @dilemmalord on Twitter.